Recipe: Jamaican Sorrel Punch
When it comes to holiday drinking, eggnog is only the beginning. Many cultures and cuisines proudly claim a Christmas punch and this week we’re bringing you The Global Punch Bowl with five festive punches, each with a story of their own.
It takes time to realize the importance of some traditions and flavors in your life. That’s how I feel about sorrel punch, the drink my dad always insisted we make at Christmas, even though we very rarely got around to it. But whenever we visited family and friends during the holidays, sorrel punch was there, homemade and served from saved bottles of Wray & Nephew or in overly opulent fake crystal bowls. ‘Tis the season, right?
This drink, made from dried hibiscus flowers, is a traditional punch served around Christmas in Jamaica. It’s tart and tangy and mixes up to a stunning shade of deep magenta. I like to add allspice and a few scrapes of nutmeg to the punch to bring some warmth to its slightly sour flavor. In a perfect world, sorrel punch is enjoyed with rum cake, a dark and moist version of fruit cake made boozy from soaking it in strong Jamaican rum.
Much of the Caribbean has some tradition of punch for Christmas. Most likely, it’s a relic of the colonial history of the region, given punch’s strong association with English customs. Nevertheless, the punch we see in the islands today has evolved to represent how the respective countries have made the practice of holiday punch their own.
Christmas Sorrel Punch for Sharing
What I know about Jamaican sorrel punch for Christmas is very much through the lens of my father, which is to say sorrel is about hospitality. It’s the drink you welcome friends with during Christmas, and it’s the drink you give away. I have probably had more sorrel in my life outside of my home, which is exactly how it’s meant to be.
Sorrel is planted in Jamaica in August so it’s ready to be picked around Christmas. Today you can find dried sorrel (sometimes labeled as hibiscus) in West Indian grocery stories and some Latino markets. Traditionally, the fresh flowers are used and are steeped for several days.
It’s easier to procure dried hibiscus these days, and even easier to prepare sorrel by steeping the dried leaves in boiling water along with cloves and lots of fresh ginger. I like to sweeten sorrel with simple syrup because it gives you control over how tart and tangy you want it to be. Finally, you add a squeeze of lime and orange juice and a healthy splash of rum. An overproof Jamaican white rum, such as Wray & Nephew, is my first choice — and it’s not for the faint of heart. Just a splash will do! Some opt for an amber rum or even port wine, but being my father’s daughter, only Wray & Nephew will do.
Jamaican Sorrel Punch
Serves6 to 8
- 8 cups
- 6 ounces
sorrel (dried hibiscus flowers)
- 5 ounces
sliced fresh ginger
scrapes from a whole nutmeg (optional)
- 1 cup
Jamaican white rum (optional)
- 1 to 1 1/2 cups
Juice of 1 orange (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 teaspoon
Orange slices, for garnish
Bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Remove from the heat and add the sorrel, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg if using. Cover and let steep for 1 hour.
Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl. Discard the dried sorrel and spices.
Add the rum, if using, simple syrup, orange juice, and lime juice to the strained mixture and stir to combine. Transfer to a pitcher or punch bowl filled with ice. Garnish with orange slices before serving in ice-filled cups.
Sorrel: The sorrel will become stronger, and consequently tarter, the longer it steeps in the hot water.
Storage: The punch can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.